Optimistic about Antwan Wilson becoming DCPS Chancellor

The Washington Post’s Alejandra Matos and Perry Stein have an article today that makes me highly optimistic regarding Mayor Bowser’s hiring of Antwan Wilson to be the next Chancellor of DCPS.  Let me point out the reasons for my opinion.

First, consider his words.  The story begins with this quotation from Mr. Wilson.  “I run to places where I believe I am going to be most needed. . . It’s 100 percent possible to educate every child.  Sometimes people say that’s unrealistic, but I just don’t believe that.”

This is exactly what we need to hear from the person that will replace Kaya Henderson.  Mr. Wilson states that his his top priority in his new job will be closing the academic achievement gap, something that I’ve argued for years should be our city’s number one goal.

Then there is his positive attitude toward charter schools.  In the Post piece Mr. Wilson remarks that he was not looking to leave his current position in Oakland, California but the fact that D.C. “already has a working relationship with a robust charter sector” made the possibility of a new job “compelling.”

In Oakland the new Chancellor sought to turnaround his system’s five most under performing schools.  To accomplish this feat he sought advice from various stakeholders that included charters.

The move apparently upset the community and it was claimed that Mr. Wilson was attempting to substitute charters for traditional schools.  This accusation was repeated when he tried to implement a common lottery, something we already have in place here.

The Post reporters also reveal that during his decade in Denver Mr. Wilson became principle for three years of one of the toughest high schools in the regular school system.  Then he supported dismantling the facility and turning it into three different institutions.

He then moved on to administering all high schools for Denver Public Schools.  The Post comments that Mr. Wilson is “credited with boosting high school graduation rates, redesigning the system’s alternative schools and increasing enrollment in Advanced Placement courses.”

Denver school Superintendent Tom Boasberg asserted that he and Mr. Wilson often tried to mimic public school reform progress in the nation’s capital.

“We owe a tremendous amount to him.” Mr. Boasberg remarked.  Let’s hope that he has similar success in his new home town.

 

 

Antwan Wilson to be named new Chancellor of DCPS

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown reports today that Antwan Wilson, the current superintendent of schools in Oakland, California, is to be named the new Chancellor of DCPS, replacing Kaya Henderson, who resigned her position this year.

I have to admit I’m already excited by this decision by Mayor Bowser.  As Ms. Brown reveals, Mr. Wilson generated controversy at his current job by being too cozy with charter schools.  From her article:

“Critics, including many in the teachers’ union, accused him of trying to aid charter schools at the expense of the city’s traditional public schools. Protests erupted at school board meetings, where teachers and activists — many of them white, according to the Bay Area News Group — accused Wilson of being ‘the face of new Jim Crow.’

‘I’m not going to stand by while someone who doesn’t look like me accuses me of carrying out some form of Jim Crow,’ Wilson told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year. ‘I teach my own kids that no one can take your dignity and only you can control your temper. I tell them that I know who I am. I know my history.'”

It makes perfect sense that Mr. Wilson would seek to work closely with charters.  He spent a decade in Denver as a school principal and assistant superintendent.  As I have written, this past summer I attended an Amplify School Choice Conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in Denver where I learned that the city actually has a District-Charter Collaboration compact.  Apparently, what sparked anger by regular public school supporters in Oakland was Mr. Wilson’s proposal that there be a common lottery with charters for parents making enrollment decisions for their children.  For years now, Washington D.C. has had such a common lottery, as does Denver.

The new Chancellor, whose selection must be approved by the D.C. Council, understands the power of education in turning around the lives of those on the low end of the economic spectrum.  He was raised by a single mother, as Ms. Brown explains, and from Kindergarten through high school he attended ten different schools and resided in 15 different homes.

Mr. Wilson, 44 years old, travels in the same school reform circle as Ms. Henderson and former Chancellor Michelle Rhee.  He received training by the Broad Academy, which supports many of the initiatives started by these two women, including tying teacher evaluations to student academic achievement.

“Schools can save lives,” Mr. Wilson is quoted as observing.  That is exactly what D.C. charters have been doing now for 20 years.

Basis PCS withdraws application to expand

Tonight is the monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board and therefore last week as is the custom I received an email containing the agenda.  When I reviewed it I was confused in that I did not see the anticipated vote on the expansion request of Basis PCS.  I then contacted the PCSB office to ask about the omission.

As you recall at the October session representatives from Basis had asked to grow by an astonishing 936 students in grades Kindergarten through the fourth grade.  The school currently serves 700 children in grades five through twelve.  However, during the discussion regarding the charter amendment PCSB board member Steve Bumbaugh made the following observation:

“He revealed that for the last three weeks he had been studying the student enrollment data at the charter and he frankly found the numbers to be ‘concerning.’ For example, he discovered that across the charter sector in D.C., 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged but at Basis this number is 17 percent.  Again, he observed, overall for charters 15 percent of pupils are classified as Special Education and at Basis this number is less than five percent.  Moreover, at Basis less than 10 percent of kids are found to be At Risk while for charters that statistic is 51 percent.  Finally, Mr. Bumbaugh explained that charters are characterized by  student populations that include 7 percent English Language Learners while at Basis this percentile is zero.”

In reaction to this information I wrote that “in other words, the fear that I expressed years ago that Basis would create a school in the nation’s capital that ignored the original charter bargain to take care of those students often left behind by the traditional schools has become a reality.”

It appeared to me that the amendment request was consistent with the explicit Basis strategy of opening charter schools utilizing public money to provide essentially a private school education in localities where the law allowed it to execute this plan.  Where no charter school law exists the organization’s tactic is to replicate by offering parents the traditional private school model.  It appears that in response to my comments and those of Mr. Bumbaugh the charter changed its mind regarding the request to add another campus and withdrew its application.

This is not the first time that a request by Basis DC to augment its student body did not go as planned.  After the school opened here in 2013 it asked the charter board to increase its enrollment ceiling by 35 students in order to make loan and rent payments related to its Eighth Street facility.  The PCSB turned down the move citing the large number of kids, 43 out of 443, that had already left the school.  Seven of those pupils were classified as special education students.

Exclusive interview with Dr. LaTonya Henderson, executive director of Cedar Tree Academy PCS

I had the privilege recently of interviewing Dr. LaTonya Henderson, the executive director of Cedar Tree Academy Public Charter School.  The school is named after Cedar Hill, the estate and national historical site of abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is located near its campus.  Ms. Henderson informed me that Cedar Tree currently enrolls 380 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten three, Pre-Kindergarten four, and Kindergarten.  When I asked Ms. Henderson how she obtained her permanent facility I learned that in the past our paths had directly crossed.

It turns out that Cedar Tree Academy originated from the remnants of Howard Road Academy.   I remember vividly the highly impressive Tracey Johnson who used to be Howard Road Academy’s board chair.  We ran into each other at many of the meetings in the early days of D.C.’s charter school movement.  Then we became competitors.

In February 2008, the DC Public Charter School Board, under the leadership of Tom Nida, was forced to shutter Washington Leadership Academy PCS in Southeast because it had run out of operating funds and was in deep debt that included payroll taxes it had failed to pay.  Mr. Nida invited other interested charters to bid on taking over this school in midyear.  I was then chair of the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts and we decided to try and expand.  Three other charters that satisfied the criteria to replicate also put in proposals, and each institution gathered at a Ward 6 church one cold evening to make their case for taking over the failed school in front of the PCSB and about 100 angry Washington Leadership parents.  Multiple times Mr. Nida had to fight back the strong emotions of those in the audience to keep the session moving.  At the end of the tense meeting Mr. Nida announced that Howard Road Academy had won the selection process.

I was terribly upset that we had not been picked but I was also incredibly impressed with Mr. Johnson that night.  He related to Mr. Nida that his staff had put together a series of issues that needed to be resolved in order to have a successful takeover.  I believe the number of items on the list reached into the eighties.

It turns out that Dr. Henderson was the principal at Howard Road Academy at the time and she informed me that she was the one that had assembled the document to which Mr. Johnson referred.   Dr. Henderson then explained that she really wished that William E. Doar had won the request for proposal.  She elaborated.

“Howard Road was doing great at that time,” the Cedar Tree PCS executive director related.  “Academically we were extremely strong.  Financially we were solid and we were not lacking for cash on hand.  But as soon as we assumed control of this school, the situation changed dramatically.”

“We just expanded too quickly,” Dr. Henderson continued.  “We had added two campuses to the two we already operated.  At our peak we were up to 1,000 kids.  Integrating the parents and students into the existing program proved spectacularly problematic.  Our board of directors, which in the past was strongly united, was now bitterly divided over the decision to grow.  The daily frustrations became so great that I decided to leave.”

She was able to stay away from the charter for four years.  Then Mr. Johnson convinced Dr. Henderson, after about five or six unsuccessful attempts, to come back to the school as a board member.  Upon her return she found that the PCSB was on the verge of revoking the school’s charter due to low academic performance.  Just as she had done with the Washington Leadership project, Dr. Henderson put together a plan to rectify the situation.  She proposed sharply reducing the size of the charter by two campuses so that they could focus on their high-performing early childhood program.  One of the four campuses had already been closed by Howard Road due to poor student outcomes.   Dr. Henderson did not know if the PCSB would go along with this idea.  She worked closely with Scott Pearson, the board’s executive director, who Dr. Henderson described as “extremely helpful” in advancing the plan.   Eventually the PCSB went along with the strategy as long as the school was able to demonstrate three years of academic growth.

Cedar Tree is in its fourth year of scholastic advancement.  The charter is now ranked as Tier 1 on the Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework.

The early childhood charter now occupies one of the buildings that was owned by Howard Road Academy.  At the start of the restructuring there were 150 students.  Now there are approximately 19 classrooms with 22 kids or less in each one.  There are about 70 staff members.  The curriculum includes Spanish, music, African American dance, and physical education that even encompasses learning tennis.  Parents have expressed that they would love the school to expand beyond Kindergarten.

I asked Dr. Henderson to describe the children that Cedar Tree serves.  The executive director answered in rapid fashion.  “One hundred percent of our student population qualifies for free or reduced price meals.  These are absolutely the best kids in the world.  They are so innocent.  They are absolute sponges.  In many ways these are traditional Southeast kids.  There are parents living in poverty, maybe addicted to drugs, often led by single mothers.  But you have to understand.  I am the children that we serve.  I grew up in the projects.  My mother, who passed away when I was 15, was an alcoholic.  She had a ninth grade education.  I am the youngest of nine children.  My mom repeatedly stressed to her children that when you reach the age of 18 you either have to go to college or the military.  I chose college.  We also were raised going to church every Wednesday and Sunday.  I had an extremely spiritual foundation.  I am convinced that all the people that prayed for me led me to where I am today.”

The Cedar Tree PCS executive director then spoke philosophically.  “The way that we approach learning over here is that we are building a solid foundation.  We understand that along the way the structure above the ground may be washed away but the house can always be rebuilt.  It is getting the foundation right that is most important.  It is analogous to putting money in the bank to prepare for the future.”

I believe the next logical inquiry for Dr. Henderson is to understand what led to the school’s success.  Again, it appeared that the words were already sitting on the tip of her tongue as I started to speak.  “We make a personal connection with every parent.  I stand outside Monday through Friday at drop off and recess.  I talk to each of them daily.  We demonstrate that we love all of these children.  I make it a point to call the grownups and visit their homes.  We develop a deep trust with the adults.  We show through our actions that we believe with our hearts that without exception they can succeed at high levels.  Our faculty knows that the amount of love we show changes a child’s life.  It happens daily at our school.  Therefore, if it ever comes to the point in which there is an issue with a child that we need to address, the parents become our strongest advocates.  This is the direct result of the time and effort we have taken to develop this strong trust.”

“Moreover,” the Cedar Tree executive director added, “like all schools now we utilize data to monitor the progress of our children.  One tool that has been particularly effective has been the School Readiness Consulting that is offered once a year by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.  Here outside observes assess teacher interactions with students in the areas of emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support.”  Dr. Henderson is proud of the fact that Cedar Tree consistently scores strongly on this measure.

After spending some time with Dr. Henderson, I would not imagine that it would be any other way.

The 2016 Friendship PCS Teacher of the Year Gala

The falling leaves and crisp cool weather means its time again for the Friendship Public Charter School Teacher of the Year Award held annually at the refined J.W. Marriott Hotel.  My wife Michele and I are always eager to attend this inspiring event. We were not disappointed.

Upon arrival at the opening reception I ran right into Patricia Brantley, the former chief operating officer for the school, now Mr. Hense’s replacement who I recently interviewed.  I asked her what it felt like to be in this new role this evening.  She answered without hesitation.  “I was of course exceedingly familiar with the workings of Friendship from my 23 years of being on the staff.  However, it is beyond thrilling to me that I now have the unbelievable opportunity of celebrating the greatest educators in the country.  As CEO, to be able to shake the hands of teachers who make Friendship work and who on a daily basis are in front of our children, is beyond moving.  There are six nominees tonight for Teacher of the Year but I feel like I’m the winner for just having the opportunity to strive to support these amazing individuals.”

Between cocktails and appetizers served by the hotel’s highly professional staff, coincidentally the next person we met was Donald Hense.  Looked relaxed and content he immediately wanted to boast about his new leader.  “Pat is doing a marvelous job,” the past Friendship CEO observed, “She is excellent. We did the absolute right thing.  But this was all intentional.  We had created a succession plan more than a year ago.  Friendship has the individual it needs to conduct this life changing work and she will ensure that our educators are no less than world class.”

I asked Mr. Hense about recent progress at Friendship and he informed me about an exciting initiative regarding their alumni.  He related that about 52 percent of Friendship high school graduates have completed college or are currently enrolled.  Mr. Hense told me that the charter has now created a reclamation program to figure out how to ensure that the remainder of these pupils complete their degrees.

The crowd then moved into the ballroom for the formal dinner program.  Mr. Hense gave a few introductory remarks but it was the words of Ms. Brantley that stirred the audience’s emotions.  She spoke powerfully about the momentous impact of the opening on September 24, 2016 of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  She stated that there have been many efforts over the years to recognize the contributions of American Americans but none have been as great as the creation of this institution.  She talked about having the privilege of taking Friendship students through a building that provides them with a background that prepares them to make history.  Ms. Brantley explained that it teaches these young people to dream big and to believe that anything is possible to achieve in life.

She thanked all of the teachers of Friendship schools for their strong dedication, exclaiming that “you do so much more for them than we ask you to do and more than we compensate you for doing.”  She remarked that “you take these kids into your lives, your homes, and your classrooms on a daily basis and welcome them in.”  She gave her strong appreciation to Friendship staff no matter what their role “be it security, nutrition, or administration.”

For this ninth Teacher of the Year Gala Mr. Roland Martin, the host of News One Now and a commentator for TV One Cable Network, was again the Masters of Ceremonies.  He prodded through jokes and laughter all of the school principals to keep their introductory remarks of their nominees short.  It worked.  The six finalists were then revealed.  They were Bharti Bhasin, Collegiate Campus; Paul Griffith, Technology Preparatory Campus; Prinz Milton, Blow Pierce Campus; Quianna Richburg, Chamberlain Campus; Cinthia Suchorski, Woodridge International Baccalaureate Campus; and Lucy Williams-Price, Friendship Southeast Campus.

Each time we attend this celebration Michele and I attempt to guess the winner by watching the well-produced videos of each teacher at work that accompanies their nominations.  These presentations never fail to bring tears to my eyes and this occasion was no exception.  Hints as to the likely selection may also be obtained by reading the statements of each finalist contained in the elegant brochure provided to each attendee.  But on this night we could not make a decision.  They all appeared fantastic and deserving of the top prize.  The judges had to make an extremely challenging decision.

Mr. Hense announced that the Teacher of Year for 2016 is Quianna Richburg, an English language instructor at Friendship Chamberlain.  In her acceptance speech Ms. Richburg spoke about how humble she felt winning this recognition, especially in light of other teachers at Friendship that “inspire and engage students every day.”  She noted that “their passion is of course unparalleled.  This is not easy work that we do.”

Ms. Richburg went on to say that this victory is extremely personal to her.  She informed the audience that she was the young girl that played school at home.  She created a classroom out of all her figurines, gave them assignments, and called on them.  She added that she even split them up into small groups and went so far as to contact their parents.

But perhaps, in retrospect, it was obvious that she should be the one.  From her brochure statement:

“Many of the students who walk through my door everyday are faced with personal challenges that interfere with their academic achievement.  Poverty, instability, hunger, anger, fear, and illness continue to plague the community I serve.  To an outsider looking in, forming relationships with students who are already shouldering such burdens may seem impossible.  But to me, it is an opportunity to be the adult every child deserves; a time when teachers can make a huge impact. . .

Ultimately, we as teachers hold the keys to unlocking the potential our students possess.  It is our responsibility to create classrooms that are both informative and interactive, where students feel invested and loved each and every day.  While curriculum, standards, and educational policies may change, the value of a great teacher is immeasurable.”

It was then time to move on to the after party.

Fight Night 2.0

Keith Gordon, Fight for Children’s chief operating officer who at the beginning of the new year will become the head of the organization, promised me that this year’s Fight Night, the organization’s acclaimed annual fundraiser held last Thursday, would be something special.  His comment was an understatement.  I’ve been to about eight of these events held each year at the Washington Hilton, but the 2016 version was truly exceptional in spectacle and execution.

If you have never been fortunate enough to join the gala I think I have finally come up with an analogy that will help you understand why it sells out each and every fall: attending Fight Night is like landing in New York’s Times Square.  There are so many sights and sounds that the senses quickly become filled to the brim with excitement and anticipation for what is taking place right in front of you.

First, I must start with one of the main improvements.  Like years ago, the cocktail reception once again includes food.  Lots of it.  When Under Armour took over the event one thing that disappeared from the open bar period were the appetizers.  Thankfully, now they are back, although I still miss the lamb chops.

Then there are the guests.  Senator Mark Warner gave me a warm greeting as did Fight for Children chairman Raul Fernandez.  Mr. Fernandez told me how excited he was about tonight and I compliment his quotes about the extravaganza such as this one from the Washington Post, “It’s like planning a wedding every year and at the end of the night you’re exhausted.”

An extremely relaxed Dr. Kurt Newman, president and CEO of Children’s National Health System and a Fight for Children board member, joked that I was a big shot for being in attendance.  He kindly invites me every year to the tribute that his hospital pays to the legacy of Joseph E. Robert, Jr., the philanthropist who created Fight for Children and originated Fight Night.  He passed away at the end of 2011.

The reception area that included the food, sorry I mentioned it again, also contained the silent auction filled with sports memorabilia. The fundraising effort has been augmented with games such as basketball and hockey puck shooting courtesy of our local teams.  Cheerleaders from these organizations posed for pictures with the guests.

It was then on to the main ballroom.  Attendees socialized between the boxing matches taking place in the famous ring that also serves as a stage positioned in the middle of the grand space and topped by an electronic billboard across its perimeter.  I ran into Bret Baier, FOX News Channel’s chief political anchor and anchor of the show Special Report.  I use Mr. Baier’s New York Times bestselling book about his son, “Special Heart”, to provide leadership lessons to my staff back at my job.  Also making her way toward me was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.  After she finished talking to ex-Mayor Adrian Fenty, I asked her if she had selected a new Chancellor for DCPS.  She stated that she had not picked one yet, after which I proposed that she give the job to me.  I told her that the first thing I would do would be to turn all schools into charters.  “All school into charters,” Ms. Bowser smiled, “I don’t know about that.”

Attention turned to Kevin Plank as he took his seat next to the ring.  The Under Armour founder, CEO, and chairman who I interviewed just last week for my book about Joe Robert, seemed to especially enjoy the match of Muay Thai Boxing, boxing in which the fighters can also use their feet.  The approximately 2,000 men attired in black-tie together with a smaller proportion of elegantly women were soon served dinner, including as is tradition, foot long steaks. Cigar smoke filled the air.  Hostesses in red gowns delivered cocktails to the guests.

There was also a plethora of musical entertainment.  America’s Got Talent’s Sal Valentinetti serenaded the attendees with Frank Sinatra-syle songs as they entered the ballroom.  Sheila E. gave a highly energetic performance from a stage at the south end of the hall, and once the boxing had concluded, Foreigner brought the crowd to its feet.  I didn’t realize how many tremendous hits this band has had in its history.

Past midnight it was time for Fight Night After Dark for dessert.  This was the first year the after party was held at the Washington Hilton.  As soon as I arrived someone was tugging at my arm.  It was Kaya Henderson, the recently department DCPS chancellor.  I asked her whether she was working in education and she said that she was currently simply visiting family.  I told her that we needed her back.  I then ran back into Mr. Gordon.  I asked him how he thought the evening went.  He could hardly contain his exhilaration, “We had the chance to showcase the future of Fight Night.  While the feedback has been incredible the best compliment by far has been that Joe would have loved it.”

He most certainly would have.  The event raised over $5.1 million to support the health and education of low-income children in Washington D.C. and Baltimore.

Tonight is Fight for Children’s Fight Night 2016

Tonight is Fight for Children’s Fight Night fundraiser and I’m extremely fortunate that I will once again be in attendance.  By tradition the blog post on this day talks about the life and legacy of Joseph E. Robert, Jr. who founded Fight for Children twenty six years ago and created this event.  But today I want to write about someone else.

At the end of this year Fight for Children’s president and chief executive officer Michela English is stepping down from her role.  After a decade of leading this organization she will transition to becoming a member of its board of directors.  I have observed Ms. English’s work for years and I must say that she may be one of the most impressive individuals I have ever met. Here are some of her observations contained in a press release announcing the change:

“During my 10 years with Fight for Children, the organization has successfully transitioned from a founder-driven organization to a sustainable, independent nonprofit with a highly skilled and professional staff, and a strong, diverse group of business and civic leaders who serve on our Board of Directors.  Our annual revenues have increased nearly 80% and Fight Night continues to grow each year behind strong support and ongoing commitment from presenting sponsor, Under Armour.  We have also diversified and continue to grow our funding base with contributions from foundations, corporations, individual philanthropists, and government organizations.”

The paragraph does not remotely approach doing justice to what Ms. English has accomplished.  When Mr. Robert passed away at the end of 2011 Fight for Children could have celebrated its contributions and then closed up shop and shut the doors.  Instead, Ms. English, in keeping with the fierce determination and positive spirit of Mr. Robert, refocused Fight for Children’s mission to emphasize strengthening early childhood education and health, and aligned its giving to support this goal.  Her nine member staff attains results other groups would need three times the number of employees to achieve.  When you go to an event hosted by Fight for Children you can be categorically certain that it will exemplify class, kindness, and professionalism.  Moreover, Ms. English has been especially gracious to me personally.

Fight for Children has raised and leveraged over $450 million for education and healthcare programs for low-income children in Washington D.C.  Fight for Children’s fundraising events and other initiatives have directly raised $100 million. It has also been a catalyst in helping the District of Columbia obtain an additional $350 million in federal funding for local education programs.

She has reached all of these milestones in a quiet dignified way that does not hint for even a second of the bare energy of Mr. Robert.  But powerful she has been, whether we are talking about assisting in the development of DCPS’s Impact teacher evaluation system, creating Joe’s Champs to train educators to teach young scholars, providing Quality School Awards to encourage the replication of best practices in the classroom, or as a member of the selection committee for the new DCPS chancellor.

The reins of Fight for Children are being left in the highly capable and energetic hands of chief operating officer Keith Gordon, who was recruited a year ago to play this role.  Mr. Raul Fernandez has led the board of directors since 2012.

Ms. English does not consider her move a retirement.  She will continue to contribute as a board member on numerous nonprofits and to advise businesses.  For instance, she mentions in the press release that she is serving as “a strategic advisor and mentor for growing organizations, such as the ed tech startup Planet 3.”

Here’s to a job well done.  I hope to share a congratulatory toast with Ms. English at this year’s sold-out Fight Night Gala.

Will Massachusetts decide the future of U.S. charter schools?

There is a tremendously important vote taking place today and it has nothing to do with who will be the next President of the United States.  There is a ballot measure in Massachusetts that would lift the cap on the number of charter schools.  The outcome at the ballot box could decide whether charters continue to grow in America or whether they turn into a short-term experiment that dies at the vine.  Here is why.

Education policy analysts who rarely agree on anything line up together on one main point.  Children who attend Boston charters that predominately serve low income pupils  significantly academically outperform their peers that go to traditional schools. This is from a New York Times article that ran this past weekend by David Leonhardt:

“When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that’s uncommon for academic researchers. ‘Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains,’ said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.”

But because this is a political year objective facts may be insufficient to sway the public.

Democrats, who are often beholden to teachers’ unions, are arguing that the money for charters takes away funds from the regular schools and therefore harms the students that remain in them when there is a option to enroll somewhere else.  Charter schools rarely have unionized teachers.  Here is Senator Elizabeth Warren:

“I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth,” Ms. Warren wrote, “especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

We have seen the identical impact that powerful unions play when it comes to school choice here in Washington, D.C.  They have exerted every bit of influence they can to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides scholarships for students living in poverty to attend private schools.

Now the sad part.  Because charters are concentrated in Boston but Question 2 is voted on by everyone in the state, where most public schools are good, observers now believe the measure will fail.  But there is always hope.  Many people, despite ideology, will simply look out for the benefit of the children.  For example, despite the opposition, keep in mind that the OSP is still alive here in the nation’s capital after sixteen years.  Let’s conclude with a comment by Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan professor who was one of those that looked at the performance of Boston charters.

“The gains to children in Massachusetts charters are enormous. They are larger than any I have seen in my career.  To me, it is immoral to deny children a better education because charters don’t meet some voters’ ideal of what a public school should be. Children don’t live in the long term. They need us to deliver now.”

District should settle charter school funding inequity lawsuit

Yesterday’s blog post generated some comments around my observation that the “FOCUS-coordinated funding inequity lawsuit never gets mentioned.”  It turns out that there currently is much discussion around this legal action. My understanding is that charter schools have been updated regarding progress. The lead attorney in the case tells me that it will take until at least March, 2017 and in all likelihood beyond this period.

This is of course, totally unacceptable.  The complaint was brought in 2014.  The law in this case is simple and straightforward.  The School Reform Act that authorized the creation of charter schools in the District as passed by the U.S. Congress established that a “uniform formula will be used to provide operating budgets on the basis of enrollment for the school system as a whole and for individual public charter schools.”

But from the beginning DCPS has received services and dollars to which charter schools have not had access, totaling over $770 million at the time that the legal challenge began.  It amounts to, according to the suit, “$14 million to nearly $80 million each year from 2008 through 2012 equating to $2,150 for each pupil per year that DCPS has received that charters have not.”  The lawsuit deals with operating funds and does not touch the additional great unfairness in the money the traditional schools are provided for facilities to which charters do not have access.

Enough is enough.  Instead of arguing this matter in the courts, Mayor Bowser’s administration should utilize the Cross Sector Collaboration Task Force or some other avenue to settle this matter once and for all.  The time is right.  We have in Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles someone who understands this issue first-hand as the founder of E.L. Haynes PCS.  Ms. Bowser has shown great leadership when it has come to attempting to reduce homelessness and increasing the quantity of affordable housing.  There is a great opportunity here to extend her influence to a matter that will directly impact the well-being of our city’s children.

Under Bowser, what does Mayoral control of the public schools mean?

Muriel Bowser has been in office for almost a couple of years now, so I think it’s fair to ask a logical question.  Just what does it mean under this Mayor for her to have control of our public schools?  As someone who follows public policy regarding education closely this was an easy answer when it came to her predecessor.

Mr. Gray was an unashamed proponent of charter schools.  He turned over at least a dozen shuttered DCPS facilities to these innovative institutions.  Mr. Gray’s first Deputy Mayor for Education, De’Shawn Wright, completed the Illinois Facility Fund report that calculated in 2002 the number of quality public school seats that needed to be created in the nation’s capital so that every child could receive an education that would prepare them for college.  The number was an astonishing 40,000.  The next Deputy Mayor, Abigail Smith, released the equally groundbreaking Adequacy study which for the first time in the history of local school reform documented the illegal additional revenue that DCPS is receiving compared to charters outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  That number is a sickening 100 million dollars a year.  The document came complete with remedies to fix the situation.

But this is not all.  Mr. Gray solidified the per pupil facility fund for charter schools at $3,000, utilizing for the first time funding solely from the city.  This freed up Congressional Three Sector Approach SOAR grant dollars for charters to allocate for other purposes.  Also under his tenure, the common lottery was introduced and the annual school fair became an event equally promoting charters along with the traditional schools.

Today, the situation is much different.  The recommendations of the Adequacy study sit gathering dust on a book shelf in the Wilson building and the FOCUS-coordinated funding inequity lawsuit never gets mentioned.  Also covered in filth are the shuttered dilapidated DCPS facilities that are no longer being offered to charters.  The per pupil facility fund is frozen at a level that leads to the sector teaching students in structures that pale in comparison to their regular school counterparts.

This Mayor has created the Cross Sector Collaboration Task Force.  It has apparently been meeting for over a year and according to the chair of the Public Charter School Board the group has “really been focused on getting to know one another.”

Mayor Fenty fought hard to win control of the public schools from the D.C. Council. Perhaps it is time to simply give it back to the Board of Education.  Mayor Bowser obviously has other priorities.